George Lakoff’s Truth Sandwich

As we move deeper into our tenth season, we want to make sure we’re providing solutions, not just discussing problems. Last week, we saw how the erosion of truth leads to fascism with Lee McIntyre. This week, we talked with world-famous linguist and professor George Lakoff about how we can all preserve the truth, and stop lies from spreading.

Check out his interview here!

Promoting the truth and downplaying lies is harder than it looks. In fact, it goes against our common sense. “If you negate a lie, what you’re doing is highlighting the lie,” Lakoff said in our interview. Addressing a lie head-on may seem like a sound strategy, but you’re actually prompting the other person into thinking more about it, reinforcing it in their brain. Simply put: negating a lie helps liars!

So, how can we all call out lies without accidentally helping them spread? Lakoff provides an answer in the form of an invention he calls “the Truth Sandwich.” It’s a three-part process using both truth and lies, but when used properly, it conveys the reality without promoting the myth.

The truth sandwich consists of two slices of “bread,” which represent the truth. In the middle of the sandwich, we have an unsavory filling of lies. So, our lunch goes truth-lie-truth.

It’s a slightly abstract concept, but it’s critically important to understand. Here’s an example:

Earlier this week, news broke that Trump is taking Hydroxychloroquine.

First, let’s look at the truth. Hydroxychloroquine is a drug.  It treats malaria, lupus, arthrosis, and other malaises. It’s currently not recommended for use against COVID-19 unless specifically prescribed. There are many side-effects of Hydroxychloroquine, like dizziness, “strange thoughts,” seizures, twitching, and more. There is currently not enough information for a scientific consensus on the results of Hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19.

Now, we look at the lie. At the outset of the pandemic, Fox News and other right-wing media actors hailed it as a miracle drug. It was a “game-changer” and a “miracle turnaround.” Trump quickly sang its praises. As doctors and professionals sounded the alarm, these lies continued. Then, suddenly, Fox News backed off.  It was too late. Their incessant pitching of a drug without proven medical benefits, and a host of devastating side effects, lived on after they stopped spreading the lie.

Now we have a verifiable truth—Hydroxychloroquine should not be taken unless explicitly prescribed by a doctor—and a lie—Hydroxychloroquine will save you from COVID. We’ll look at the wrong way to do it, then the right way. For our purposes, Bold is accurate, and italics is false.

The wrong way frame with news looks like this:

Some on the right are touting Hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure for COVID-19. They say it can be a “game changer” in the fight against the disease. The scientific community is still undecided about its usefulness, and cite a large number of side-effects as dangerous. Doctors do not recommend taking it unless prescribed. Trump said earlier this week that he is taking the drug as a precaution, and many on the right are still hailing the drug as critical to COVID response.

Now, you’re probably thinking about how Hydroxychloroquine and how it helps fight against COVID. Even though we negated the lie, it’s still floating around in your brain.

Now, let’s make our truth sandwich.

It goes like this: Hydroxychloroquine has no proven impact on treating COVID-19, and has a host of dangerous side-effects. Some on the right have falsely touted Hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure for COVID-19. Trump recently said he was taking it to ward off the disease. The scientific community says there is no proof Hydroxychloroquine can save you from COVID. Doctors do not recommend taking it unless prescribed.

By doing this, we’ve stuck the lie between two instances of the truth. We led with the fact, and we closed out with it. Chances are, you’re thinking about the truth now, not the fake news Fox threw at us.

If you look back at this post, you’ll notice the overall structure is similar to that of a truth sandwich. We took a topic and started with the truth. Then, we looked at how the lie works and what the lie is. Then, we finished off with the fact. Truth-ception!

This example illustrates why framing is critical to the way we discuss news and lies in our post-truth society. We need reporters, editors, and anyone with a significant audience to practice this at all times. Simply negating the truth is not an option, and it’s how we ended up with someone who listens to Sean Hannity more than Dr. Fauci in the White House.

Works Cited

Darcy, Oliver. “Fox News Falls out of Love with Hydroxychloroquine.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Apr. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/04/22/media/fox-news-hydroxychloroquine-reliable-sources/index.html.

Karni, Annie, and Katie Thomas. “Trump Says He’s Taking Hydroxychloroquine, Prompting Warning From Health Experts.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/18/us/politics/trump-hydroxychloroquine-covid-coronavirus.html.

Memmott, Mark. “Let’s Put ‘Truth Sandwiches’ On Our Menu.” NPR, NPR, 20 June 2018, www.npr.org/sections/memmos/2018/06/20/621753252/lets-put-truth-sandwiches-on-our-menu.

Michael. “Fox News Stars Trumpeted a Malaria Drug, Until They Didn’t.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/business/media/virus-fox-news-hydroxychloroquine.html.

“Side Effects of Plaquenil (Hydroxychloroquine), Warnings, Uses.” RxList, RxList, 19 Feb. 2020, www.rxlist.com/plaquenil-side-effects-drug-center.htm.

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